The Urban Review

, Volume 45, Issue 1, pp 7-22

First online:

“If There is No Struggle, There is No Progress”: Transformative Youth Activism and the School of Ethnic Studies

  • Nolan L. CabreraAffiliated withCenter for the Study of Higher Education, The University of Arizona College of Education Email author 
  • , Elisa L. MezaAffiliated withSocial Welfare, University of California
  • , Andrea J. RomeroAffiliated withFamily Studies and Human Development, University of Arizona
  • , Roberto Cintli RodríguezAffiliated withMexican American Studies, University of Arizona

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In the wake of the Tucson Unified School District dismantling its highly successful Mexican American Studies (MAS) program, students staged walkouts across the district to demonstrate their opposition. Student-led walkouts were portrayed as merely “ditching,” and students were described as not really understanding why they were protesting. After these events, a group of student activists called UNIDOS organized and led the School of Ethnic Studies. This was a community school dedicated to teaching the forbidden MAS curriculum. In this article we present counternarratives from organizers, presenters, and participants in the School of Ethnic Studies. These narratives demonstrate the transformative resistance of students who created their own form of liberatory education. Our analysis highlights how student organizers led the creation of an autonomous, community-based educational space to allowed young people to engage in political analysis, self-reflection, and strategic organizing. We conclude with the implications for Ethnic Studies, urban education, and counternarrative.


Mexican American Studies Ethnic Studies Youth activism Transformative resistance Counternarrative Tucson Unified School District